A new report by the IPPR think tank has called for an expansion of end of life services as it predicted deaths would return to pandemic levels every year from 2031.
The report said the ‘traumatic’ final days experienced by patients sent home or to care homes to die without adequate support and resources could become the ‘new normal’ unless there is significant reform to England’s end of life services.
Chris Thomas, IPPR senior research fellow, said: “The pandemic showed the consequences of trying to tackle a huge spike in deaths without the right, proactive funding, workforce, training and coordination. In too many cases, it meant traumatic final days for dying people – and for their friends, family and loved ones too.
“The grim reality is that total annual deaths will reach pandemic levels by 2031 – and without proactive planning, this risks an eternal 2020 in end of life care. To prevent this, the government must put in place hospice quality community care across the country to guarantee a dignified death for all.
“Too often, we find it difficult to talk about death and dying, but we must overcome that hesitancy to boldly confront the challenge ahead.”
The report attributes the growing death rate to the UK’s rapidly ageing population, with the over-60 population in England estimated to grow by more than 15% between 2018 and 2031, combined with the rapid rise in conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, that often require long term support in care settings rather than hospitals, as well as more cancer patients living longer, but with long-term and complex treatment needs.
The report provides a blueprint for end of life care in the community, including:
hiring 2,700 new care coordinators to advocate for patients within communities to get them the care they need and ensure compassion and dignity for dying people;
ensuring ‘hospice quality’ care in all settings, widely seen as the gold standard for care, by properly funding and resourcing services;
ensuring quality training for all with a new ‘end of life care academy’, open to workers and carers; and
making dedicated emotional, mental health and financial support available to care workers and family carers alike.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Palliative and end of life care services play a hugely important role in providing care for thousands at the most difficult times. We are incredibly grateful to the hospice sector for their invaluable contribution throughout the pandemic, both in continuing to deliver end of life care in challenging circumstances and for supporting the NHS.
“As part of the COVID response, national grant funding was put in place for hospices to secure and increase NHS capacity. We also provided additional testing and will continue to provide free PPE for all those working in end of life care until the end of March 2022.”